Popular Beaches in San Diego

Learn what makes these San Diego beaches with both locals and visitors

San Diego County has 76 miles of coastline, and most of it is accessible beachfront. And while any beach is good in most residents' minds, there are some that are particularly special, whether its for the scenery (both geographic and human), the surf, or the sand. In any case, here are a few of San Diego's favorite beaches.
  • 01 of 13
    Mission Beach in San Diego
    ••• Mission Beach. Gina Tarnacki

    If you want to experience the epitome of the San Diego beach lifestlye, then Mission Beach is your place. You have wide sandy stretches, a boardwalk, beautiful bodies, beachfront condos -- just about everything you could ask for on an idyllic day in San Diego. Oh, and throw in an oceanfront, wooden rollercoaster and you've completed the classic picture. The crowds are lively and youthful, and the surf is challenging at the southern end near the jetty. Pickup basketball games and volleyball are popular at the south end park. The area near Belmont Park and the Giant Dipper rollercoaster is where the serious people watching happens. If you love crowds and like to be seen, Mission Beach is your place.

  • 02 of 13

    Coronado Municipal Beach is a mellow, family friendly beach with a picture perfect postcard backdrop. A wide, sandy expanse gives families plenty of room to stretch out, and if you spread your towel along the central beach, you have the majestic Hotel del Coronado rising right behind you. On the north end, near the North Island Naval Station is Dog Beach, where your dog can romp leashless. A walk along Coronado Beach is a contrast in style: the grand Victorian Hotel Del, the highrise condos to the south, a Navy jet or two taking off, and the Point Loma peninsula to the distant north. And did you know those sand dunes on central beach spell out "Coronado?" Really.

  • 03 of 13

    San Diego has a number of prime surfing spots, and Swami's Beach in Encinitas is arguably one of the best. So much so that the Beach Boys immortalized the beach in their song, "Surfin' USA." Experienced surfers love the place because the reef break provides challenging waves. Far below the bluff, the cobblestone beach adds to the allure that this is no sunbathing spot -- it's a surfing spot. High above along the bluff is the golden dome of the Self-Realization Fellowship Temple, home of the monastic Swami order, hence the beach's name. There's hardly any parking, not much sand, and that's perfectly fine for the hardcore surfer.

  • 04 of 13

    The La Jolla area is blessed with a number of incredible beaches, but nothing compares to Windansea when it comes to waves, scenery and mythology. You see, this longstanding surfing hotspot is dripping in surfer lore, and the beach and its surfers were immortalized in the 1968 Tom Wolf book "The Pump House Gang." The thatch-roofed Surf Shack is the iconic symbol of the beach and it sits on the sandstone outcroppings that are a picturesque feature of the beach. Beware - if you aren't a skilled surfer, then you probably shouldn't be messing with Windansea's waves or territorial surfers.

    Continue to 5 of 13 below.
  • 05 of 13

    OK, let's get this out of the way: yes, because of its isolated location, nude sunbathing is practiced and allowed on the state park side of Black's Beach. That being said, this stretch of Torrey Pines beach known as Black's Beach is both picturesque in it's setting at the foot of the towering sandstone cliffs and is also a favorite surfing spot. And though most of the nude sunbathers are left alone, there is an occasional element of creepy lurkers seeking a cheap thrill, so the beach isn't great for families. The beach access is pretty difficult (you need to hike down a slippery trail on the cliffs or a lengthy hike along the beach from the north or south), so that can be a deterrent. In any case, Black's Beach is a spectacular piece of beachfront.

  • 06 of 13

    The vibe of Ocean Beach is mellow and laid back and that vibe reflects the surrounding community of Ocean Beach, the neighborhood that sometimes feels like it never left the 1960s. But that's cool, because the beach itself makes everyone feel welcome -- from surfers to families to the oddball residents -- and is what makes Ocean Beach distinguish itself from its more bustling neighbors Mission and Pacific beaches just north across the jetty. Make sure you check out the view from the huge O.B. pier, and if you have a dog, let it romp leashless along Dog Beach to the north of Ocean Beach.

  • 07 of 13

    Cardiff State Beach is located along a strip of land fronting the San Elijo Lagoon. What makes this beach so inviting is the Coast Highway, which runs right along the beach; as you're driving along this stretch of highway, you can't help but pull over to the side and check out the scenery. On top of that is Cardiff's famous restaurant row, where the breathtaking scenery provides a perfect backdrop to your meal in a restaurant right on the sand. This stretch of the Coast Highway from Carlsbad down to Torrey Pines is one of the most scenic anywhere and Cardiff is a great stopping point.

  • 08 of 13

    Just north of Del Mar is the town of Solana Beach. While there isn't an actual Solana Beach, there is Fletcher Cove Beach Park in the center of town, just steps away from the train depot. The beach at Fletcher Cove is a narrow strip of sand, but it has become a favorite training spot for surfers, triathletes and swimmers.

    Continue to 9 of 13 below.
  • 09 of 13

    Pacific Beach (P.B.) gets a lot of young professionals and college students, and is known for having a party atmosphere. That lifestyle is also the beach vibe you'll get in Pacific Beach. P.B. is a mix of vacationers, families and the college crowd. It all melds into a lively Southern California vibe, and with the vintage Crystal Pier, it is your classic San Diego beach setting. The hopping nightlife, some of which borders the beach, adds to the purely P.B. personality.

  • 10 of 13

    "Where the turf meets the surf" is the tagline used by the Del Mar Racetrack, and the surf they talk about is the Del Mar City Beach. Horses from the nearby track often were historically seen on the beach for their morning training, and the locals love the stretch from 15th Street to the San Dieguito River mouth. From the wide stretch of sand to the million dollar beachfront homes, Del Mar beach is a picturesque favorite. Throw in Dog Beach, at the northern end, where dogs and people socialize in the surf, and you have a beach that is quintessential Del Mar. 

  • 11 of 13
    When you think of San Diego beaches, you don't typically think of Carlsbad State Beach - it doesn't have the reputation of Mission Beach, or the piers of Ocean and Pacific, or the backdrop of Coronado. But that doesn't mean it's deserted - on the contrary. Carlsbad is popular with Carlsbad residents - low bluffs and sandy stretches, and easy access make it a good family beach and if you're a North County resident, you're just as likely to hit Carlsbad - especially the Tamarack Blvd. stretch - as any other beach.
  • 12 of 13

    Moonlight State Beach is one of the favorite beaches in North County and why not? You have a wide swath of sand, picnic facilities, volleyball courts, playground, snack bar, fire rings and just an overall friendly vibe that makes it the pride of Encinitas. Great place to surf, swim and sunbathe. Oh, and like its name, it's a great place to hang out at moonlight, too.

    Continue to 13 of 13 below.
  • 13 of 13

    Well, the name says it all. Sunset Cliffs is the place to just sit and watch the sunset. The sandstone cliffs and crashing waves below make for a setting found in very few places. Just south of Ocean Beach and on the west side of the Point Loma peninsula, Sunset Cliffs isn't a sandy stretch of beach for frolicking. It is a favorite spot for surfers willing to make their way down the slippery rocks to catch waves. But it is the scenic viewing that makes Sunset Cliffs a special place. And if you bring binoculars, you can even sometimes spot a gray whale or two passing through.